Treatment of alcohol use disorder and co-occurring PTSD

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2017 Jul;43(4):391-401. doi: 10.1080/00952990.2016.1263641. Epub 2016 Dec 23.


Background: Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious psychiatric disorder with medical, psychiatric, and social consequences. In individuals with comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), treatment outcomes are notably worse in comparison with treatment outcomes associated with either disorder occurring alone. There is a growing literature evaluating treatments, both pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy focused, in individuals with co-occurring AUD and PTSD. The main objective of this review was to evaluate pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy studies that were specifically designed to evaluate the treatment of individuals with comorbid AUD and PTSD.

Method: MEDLINE and PUBMED databases were searched with no specific time period. Studies focusing on SUD treatments were excluded. Because the number of random clinical trial (RCT) studies was small, all publications (including open label, single case, and secondary analyses) were included.

Results: Sixteen studies met criteria and were organized based on whether they evaluated the efficacy of pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, or both. Pharmacological interventions with either AUD or PTSD agents were mainly effective in reducing drinking outcomes; only one study using sertraline found that the active study medication was superior to placebo in reducing PTSD symptoms. Psychotherapies were not superior to a comparative treatment in reducing drinking outcomes. Only 1 study showed reduction in PTSD symptoms in a small sample of completers. The single RCT that evaluated the efficacy of naltrexone in combination with psychotherapies (prolonged exposure or supportive counseling) found that naltrexone in combination with prolonged exposure was better for drinking outcomes at follow-up.

Conclusions: Although these studies represent a good start in terms of research in treatment interventions of co-occurring AUD and PTSD, the studies are very limited, most lack adequate power, and the majority suffer from inadequate control groups. In particular, there is a strong need to develop and evaluate the combined medication and psychological-based treatment interventions for those with comorbid AUD and PTSD.

Keywords: Alcohol use disorder; PTSD; comorbid conditions; medication; psychotherapy; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diagnosis, Dual (Psychiatry)
  • Humans
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*